Rifftides: August 2006 Archives

George Ziskind writes from New York:

Good to have Kuhn in the air of late. And it reminds me of this:

Steve has always been an adventurous player. Yet nothing I had previously heard him do prepared me for the time, around seven or eight years ago, when I was listening to his Dedication CD (Reservoir). I was in the first chorus of Like Someone in Love, specifically at bar 7, and no matter how many times I replayed that bar I got the same result: damn if the tempo wasn't slowing down there, almost imperceptibly yet definitely noticeably! I chalked it up to being some kind of other-worldly recording anomaly.

A few weeks thereafter I went to catch a set by Steve at the Knickerbocker - a terribly noisy club that uses good piano players. And by gosh, what did he play? "Like Someone In Love," of course. And what happened at bar 7? The tempo slowed down again, a tiny smidge, just as on the CD.

After the set I buttonholed him, asking if there was some mystical meaning to this, or perhaps at least a personal explanation? Why did he slow down the tempo there?

He replied, "Why not?"

August 31, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Many Rifftides readers are themselves bloggers. Richard Carlson, the proprietor of JazzoLOG, called my attention to a fine piece about his memories of Maynard Ferguson. Here's a taste of it.

Maynard stood out in front of that band like a cheerleader/drill sergeant somehow combined. He was constantly on the move to the rhythm. He must have been in a marching band around his home of Montreal when he was a kid, because he liked to tuck his horn under his arm and just march up there while the ensemble played away. A huge smile on his face and eyes closed, marching, marching, a bit hunched over...until time for that closing climax, when he'd face us and let loose with such a screaming, molten sound, our jaws would drop and stay that way. He loved to talk to us during breaks and gave us all the time we wanted.

One night, the young Carlson and his friends asked Ferguson how he reached so high on the trumpet. To read the answer and the rest of a lovely memoir, go here.

August 31, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (1)

What do the Angel Orensanz Center on New York's Lower East Side; The Old Church in Portland, Oregon; the Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven and The Seasons in Yakima, Washington, have in common? They are former places of worship born again as performance halls. My story in the Leisure & Arts pages of today's Wall Street Journal tells about a few of the dozens of such places.

The acoustical properties and central locations of old sanctuaries often make them ideal concert halls, but converted churches and synagogues find other performance uses as well. Across the Cascade Mountains from Yakima, Seattle's Town Hall, another decommissioned Christian Science church, functions as a cultural kaleidoscope.

"When you take on the responsibility to preserve and extend the life of an old building," says executive director Wier Harman, "it's a process of discovering what kinds of works find their best expression here."

Sorry, no link. If you're not a print or online WSJ subscriber, you can probably find a copy at your nearest news stand, supermarket or airport.

August 30, 2006 1:06 AM | | Comments (0)

Regarding the Steve Kuhn CD that will be issued next year on the Blue Note label, the Rifftides reader who calls himself drjazzphd writes:

This is only supposed to be a one-off deal for the live date but I'm very pleased to see Blue Note taking an interest in such a fine pianist, who has lurked in the shadows for many years now. Also Blue Note will be releasing an album recorded two weeks ago at Iridium of the Charles Tolliver Big Band on the heels of the article in DownBeat a couple months back. This is also positive because it shows that this major label is putting its money where its mouth is to support great art. Just wish they did it more often. Also on the horizon for 2007 along with the Kuhn and the Tolliver, there will be a new record by Jackie Terrason, which I believe will be a solo record.

Not that I would ever doubt a man with a Ph.D., but I checked his information (those old reporter genes keep kicking in) with Cem Kurosman at Blue Note, who replied:

All true. And you can also tell your "source" that we will be recording a supergroup under the leadership of Kenny Werner next week (Werner, Dave Douglas, Chris Potter, Scott Colley, Brian Blade), another release that will come out in the Winter/Spring 2007!

The exclamation point is Kurosman's.

That's that. This blog will not become a middleman for record company previews, but it is good to see solid, uncompromising musicians getting a break.

August 30, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

It was my intention to spend most of yesterday auditioning a few of the CDs that lately have been pouring in here like Lake Pontchartrain emptying into New Orleans. But first, I thought, how about a nice morning mountain bike ride in Cowiche Canyon.

At the bottom of that canyon northwest of Yakima is a three-mile trail on the bed of a railroad that was abandoned in 1984. It's a great place to see wildflowers and an assortment of birds and small animals, mostly cottontails and an occasional reptile. For demented mountain bikers, the attraction is less the gravelly path along Cowiche Creek than the narrow dirt trail that snakes along the south canyon wall. From the rim of the high desert uplands to the canyon floor, the elevation drop (term used advisedly) is 450 feet. The trail is narrow, uneven, studded with large rocks and full of hairpin switchbacks, many of which edge out into space. If you are going to test your balance, strength and reflexes by riding this rollercoaster, it is a splendid idea to be sure that your machine's brakes are functioning properly.

Somewhere in the dim (term used advisedly) recesses of my mind, I knew that the front brake on the bicycle I acquired for next to nothing at a yard sale was a bit weak. The fact came back to me powerfully as I began making my way down the first segment of the descent. In this photograph, the trail on the canyon floor is that thin ribbon way down there.Cowiche Canyon.jpg
In the lower left, you see a portion of the trail I was on. The picture does not do justice to its pitch. Suddenly, gravity was moving me along much faster than one would think warranted by the negligible combined weight of me and the cycle. I jammed the front brake lever nearly into the handlebar, but it barely slowed me. The slightest pressure on the rear brake lever locked the rear tire into a skid that threatened to fishtail the bike and its occupant over the edge and dash us down among the sagebursh and fragments of basalt on the steep slope.

Experimenting gingerly with various combinations of pressures on the rear brake and what was left of the front, I was able to keep my speed down enough not to zoom off the lip of a 180-degree switchback. Somehow, I managed to stop the cycle and walk around the turnback, then remount and inch along to the next hazard. In that way, slowly, turn after turn, I made it to the bottom. When I got on level ground, I found myself looking around to see whether anyone had been watching. Absurdly, I was proud to have survived my stupidity and hoping for witnesses, but I was the canyon's sole occupant. My only injury was a deer-fly bite.

Emerging from the bottom of the canyon onto a paved road and back into civilization, I rode immediately a mile or so to Revolution Cycles, where the always agreeable Mike readjusted the front brake. He asked if I'd had a good ride and where I had gone. Yes, I said, a good ride. Cowiche Canyon.

"We're lucky to have that, aren't we?" he said.

"Well," I told him, "I feel lucky."

Maybe I'll get to those recordings today.

(Photo, Eric Noel, B.L.M.)

August 29, 2006 12:33 AM | | Comments (2)

I just discovered by way of Nick Catalano that Steve Kuhn has signed a contract with Blue Note Records, putting him once again with a major jazz label, where he has always belonged. Among important pianists, Kuhn has received nowhere near the share of recognition he has earned. Catalano writes.

To celebrate the event Kuhn was reunited with bandmates Ron Carter and Al Foster at Birdland earlier this month. The Steve Kuhn trio carved out an important slice of immortality when it was first formed 20 years ago. If the group's efforts at Birdland are any indication, it is shortly about to add to its legend .

To read Nick's account of Kuhn's Birdland engagement, go here. I'll have more about Kuhn anon. In the meantime, see if you can find a copy of this album, one of his career triumphs.

August 28, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Thanks for your wonderful appreciation of Maynard Ferguson. In many ways, Ferguson transcended jazz and big bands. His high-octane enthusiasm and optimism captured the spirit of an entire generation of post-war Americans who believed anything and everything was possible and that the only way to go was flat out. Despite Maynard's massive musical ego, he never made anyone feel badly and encouraged everyone he encountered to be better--as a person and as a musician.

One of my favorite Maynard appearances wasn't an appearance at all. That's Ferguson (and Sal Salvador) playing on Kenton's "Invention for Guitar and Trumpet" in the film Blackboard Jungle (1955), which is heard just before the high school thugs smash their teacher's prized jazz platters. The clash between the generations in this camp film was somewhat prescient given that the rock culture ultimately would wind up "smashing" the entire jazz scene some 10 years later. What's especially fascinating is that Maynard's energy level and prowess in "Invention" and Bill Haley's intensity in "Rock Around the Clock" (the film's opening theme) aren't that different. Both are generational clarion calls. Here, in this film, you can actually hear the continental divide where jazz and rock/r&b met, and Maynard was there. There, before your eyes, the adult appreciation of virtuosity gives way to the teenage demand for a big beat. I often wondered what Maynard thought of Blackboard Jungle.

Regarding the "hen's teeth" Maynard Ferguson Mosaic box and the entire Roulette catalogue, it almost seems as if some entity is sitting on the re-release of the catalogue to keep eBay auction prices high. Perhaps Michael Cuscuna at Mosaic can shed light on why Maynard's Roulette catalogue is not in print and when that might be changed. Those babies could use a CD remastering.

Marc Myers

August 26, 2006 3:09 PM | | Comments (2)
The obvious answer. I had a few out on Roulette Jazz through EMI Blue Note and they didn't sell and got deleted. That's what drove me to do the Mosaic set. Oddly enough, before this week's shocking news I was thinking about trying the Ferguson and Basie Birdland albums at some point next year.


Mr. Cuscuna is the head of Mosaic Records. He also employs his reissue expertise at Blue Note.

August 26, 2006 3:08 PM | | Comments (0)
Nice piece Doug. I've linked it on The MF Trbute Page Forum, which is getting ten thousand times its usual traffic.

I've been listening to MF since I was 15 (I'm only 47 now) and this is a big loss. What a complete musician, and what a gentleman.

John Salmon

August 26, 2006 3:05 PM | | Comments (0)

Rifftides reader Chris Harriott writes concerning the Sonny Rollins CD in the new set of Doug's Picks (right-hand column):

Coincidentally, I've had Work Time in non stop rotation on my IPOD for the last 2 weeks or so. Can't get enough.
August 26, 2006 10:14 AM | | Comments (0)

A blog by the anonymous Dr. Jazz Ph.D. is worth perusing, if only for a couple of Michael Brecker video clips. One, from 1983, has the tenor saxophonist and a rhythm section that includes Niels Henning Orsted-Pedersen playing the fastest "Oleo" you're likely to hear this side of Johnny Griffin. The other was made at an outdoor festival in Switzerland in 1998 with his Brecker's own quartet, Joey Calderazzo on piano, James Genus on bass, and drummer Ralph Peterson. In it, Brecker manages to incorporate tricks that would have put a 1920s saxophone vaudevillian to shame while also negotiating a complex harmonic scheme and, ultimately, going into straight time and swinging the house down. Well, he would have swung it down if he hadn't been on an outdoor stage.

The young blog is The Jazz Clinic. I have cruised through its archives and found it valuable for the fresh perspective of a young enthusiast with big ears. To visit it, and to see those Brecker clips, go here.

August 26, 2006 10:00 AM |

CBS Radio News called this morning and asked me to talk about Maynard Ferguson. That's how I learned that Ferguson died last night in Ventura, California, just down the road from his home in Ojai. He was seventy-eight. He had an abdominal infection that shut down his liver and kidneys. The phenomonal trumpeter had been performing on tour with his band, Big Bop Nouveau, when he became ill and went to the hospital. Before him lay a full schedule of performances--an indicator of the almost superhuman energy and enthusiasm that drove Ferguson from the beginning of his career at the age of fifteen, to the end. In his early twenties, he left his native Canada and played with Charlie Barnet, then became a spotlighted soloist with Stan Kenton.

Answering a series of questions from CBS's Scott Saloways, I said that Ferguson made his biggest general impact with his 1977 hit record of "Gonna Fly Now," the theme from the motion picture Rocky, and that he will probably be primarily remembered by the public as a man who could generate excitement by playing double high Cs in the super-stratsophere of the trumpet. Saloways asked if that was his greatest contribution.

No. He was a fine improviser who could build lovely long-lined solos in the middle register when he had a mind to and the circumstances were right. The circumstances were perfect in the sextet that he operated for a time in the late 1960s when the economics of low demand forced him to abandon the big band format he loved as a showcase for his trumpet acrobatics. It was one of his most musical periods. This album is evidence of that, and there is more in this 1954 Dinah Washington jam session, in which Ferguson goes head to head with fellow trumpeters Clifford Brown and Clark Terry. But musicians and serious listeners are most likely to venerate Ferguson for the big band he led in the late 1950s and early 60s. He brought together some of the brightest young players and arrangers in jazz and gave them their heads while providing leadership and just enough discipline to make the band coalesce. It had all of the power and none of the schmaltz that characterized his 1970s hits on "McArthur Park" and the "Rocky" theme. In this review for Jazz Times in 1995, I attempted to describe why the band was important.

MAYNARD FERGUSON The Complete Roulette Recordings of the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra Mosaic MD 10-156 (53:39) (46:18) (43:43) (49:28) (53:30) (54:58) (55:09) (64:39) (60:46) (69:49)

After immersing myself in nine hours of the Ferguson orchestra of the late 1950s and early sixties, I'm certain of two things:

* Double high Cs will be ringing in my brain for months.

* Ferguson gave the orchestra a signature sound and much of its drive, but this was an arrangers' band.

The high-note trumpeter had charts from established writers like Marty Paich, Bill Holman, Ernie Wilkins and Benny Golson. He also encouraged arrangements from band members, and launched the arranging careers of Slide Hampton, Don Menza, Mike Abene and Don Sebesky. Willie Maiden had been a journeyman arranger for Ferguson since 1952. The uniqueness and command of the idiom in Jaki Byard's few arrangements for the band emphasize the mystery of why his writing skills didn't put him in wide demand. It was a remarkable stable of arrangers, many of them writing for a group of musicians with whom they played every night.

The resourcefulness of the arrangers made Ferguson's ensemble sound bigger than its 13 pieces. Some of the charts experimented with keys and voicings in ways quite daring for the period, or any other. The 141 tracks of this 10-CD set include many standards in addition to the original compositions generated by the arrangers. For the most part, the arrangers fashioned standards for the dance jobs Ferguson frequently played, but they produced some of the most interesting writing in the album, much of it by Hampton, Sebesky and Maiden. Hampton's version of "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" and Sebesky's "I'm Beginning To See The Light" are two examples of innovation applied to familiar material.

As for the straight-ahead jazz charts, the "Fox" series, "Three Little Foxes," "Three More Foxes" and "Fox Hunt" contains exciting workouts for the trumpets. "Oleo" and "The Mark Of Jazz" have some of Hampton's best early writing. The ingenuity of Byard's section-against-section scoring and stretched blues harmonies in "X Stream" (aka "Ode To Bird's Mother") underscores lost opportunities when Ferguson failed to make greater use of the pianist's talent for orchestration.

To emphasize the importance of the arranging staff is not to downplay the importance of the band's soloists. Maiden's tenor saxophone was central to the excitement, as were Menza's and Joe Farrell's during their time with Ferguson. Also important were the young Slide Hampton's trombone work, the alto solos of Jimmy Ford, Lanny Morgan and Carmen Leggio, the idiosyncratic range of Byard's piano and the drive of Joe Zawinul's. Drummers Frankie Dunlop, Rufus Jones and Jake Hanna swung the band while meeting the book's complex challenges.

The enthusiasm Ferguson transmitted to his young musicians made it one of the most exhilarating bands of the period. The force and range of his horn dominated the trumpet section, especially when he doubled the lead an octave or two higher. Still, these recordings have important ensemble and occasional solo contributions by Bill Chase, Clyde Reasinger, Chet Ferretti, Don Ellis and Jerry Tyree.

The freshness and joy of playing that marked the Ferguson band come across with impact in this collection. As usual in Mosaic sets, the accompanying documentation is part of the pleasure. The helpful essay and play-by-play description by Bret Primack includes the reconstruction of a night at Birdland that will stimulate amusement and recognition in anyone who ever endured Pee Wee Marquette and sat in an audience walloped by the power of the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra.

Now the bad news. The box, like all Mosaic sets a limited edition because of a licensing agreement, sold out long ago. As of this writing, Amazon has one for sale at the going collector's price, $750.00. Hurry. Worse, none of the Roulette recordings seems to be available in CD form. Here is a website that claims to have some of the original Roulette LPs at reasonable prices. Good luck.

Finally, this message from the pianist Christian Jacob, one of the many fine musicians of several generations whom Ferguson discovered and encouraged. Jacob became a member of the Ferguson family.

I have the deep regret of letting all of you know that last night at 8PM, one of the greatest jazz legends passed away from liver and kidney failure. This legend happened to be my beloved father in law: Maynard Ferguson.

He passed very quickly and with minimum pain. He will be sorely missed, by his 4 daughters his 2 son in laws, his 2 grandchildren, and of course all the friends and fans who have loved him throughout the years.

August 25, 2006 10:56 PM | | Comments (4)

Sonny Rollins, Work Time (Prestige). This was recorded more than fifty years ago. It is forever new. At twenty-six, Rollins was full of energy and bursting with ideas. I have never listened to him soar through "There's No Business Like Show Business" and Billy Strayhorn's "Raincheck" without grinning. Max Roach, high on his partnership with Clifford Brown, was at his apogee of drumming. Ray Bryant's gorgeous piano solo on "There Are Such Things" is his best ballad playing on record. The bassist, George Morrow, had been working with Rollins and Roach in the Roach-Brown group and locked powerfully into Rollins' momentum. This is a basic repertoire item.

August 24, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Brian Lynch, 24/7 (Nagel Heyer). I just caught up with this 2002 album. Lynch teams his trumpet with Miguel Zenon's alto saxophone. The two of them groove with a fine rhythm section of pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Neal Smith. Everyone plays well on the originals by band members, but the prize tracks are Jerome Kern's "Nobody Else but Me" Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" and Ellington's barely-known ballad "Azalea." In the Kern, Lynch, using a tight mute, is quick and lyrical (yes, those qualities can go together). In "West End Blues," he nails Armstrong's cadenza opening and observes the original arrangement, then he, Zenon and Germanson (keep an eye on him) play stunning extended solos before wrapping it up with the celebrated 1928 Armstrong tag.

August 24, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

András Schiff, Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Volume II, op. 10 and 13 (ECM). If you are a jazz listener who doesn't cotton to what is often categorized as "classical" music, you have my sympathy because you won't be hearing this brilliant pianist in the second CD of his projected series of the Beethoven sonatas. Consider relenting. Even you can probably relate to the c-minor, the famous "Pathetique," but Schiff's magic with the slow movement of the D-major could just convert you entirely. Lucky you. Schiff is one of the supreme pianists of his generation. His first two volumes of the sonatas suggest that his complete set will rank with Richard Goode's among his contemporaries and Arthur Schnabel's among his predecessors. Aside: I can't help wondering if the classically-canny Bill Evans had the first movement of the D-major in mind when he wrote "Waltz for Debby."

August 24, 2006 1:03 AM | | Comments (0)

Jazz Shots From The East Coast, Vols. 1-3, Jazz Shots from the West Coast, Vols. 1-3 (EforFilms). The music on these discs is almost uniformly good. The video ranges from TV quality to grainy film, and no wonder; some of these clips are ancient soundies. There are great rewards here, but be warned: the producers provide no information beyond the names of the leaders and the tunes, unless it was superimposed on the original clip. No dates. No sidemen identification. Who was that marvelous alto saxophonist soloing with Duke Ellington on "Sophisticated Lady?" It was Willie Smith, replacing Johnny Hodges for a time in the early 1950s, but if you don't recognize him, you're out of luck. Fortunately, pianist Ronnie Matthews' name appears on the screen in a marvelous performance of "Monk's Dream" by Johnny Griffin, but that is a rarity. Who was East Coast and who was West Coast may have been decided by a toss of the dice. In the course of the series, Duke Ellington, Art Blakey, Bill Evans, Phil Woods, Jimmy Smith and Thelonious Monk show up in both categories. But pigeon holes don't matter, music does, and for all of their informational faults, these DVDs deliver plenty of it by some of the best players of the twentieth century.

August 24, 2006 1:02 AM | | Comments (1)

Vivian Perlis and Libby Van Cleve, Composers' Voices from Ives to Ellington (Yale). This is the book that took first place over Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond in the Independent Publishers awards competition. But, no hard feelings, only gratitude for a hefty volume that presents oral history in a readable--and listenable--form. The book includes two CDs with, in many cases, the voices of the composers. Aaron Copland: "Music needn't be so high-falutin' that it becomes abstract and just pure notes, you know." Duke Ellington: "Everything is so highly personalized that you just can't find a category big enough. And 'jazz' certainly isn't big enough." If you wish to know more about Eubie Blake, Mel Powell, Nadia Boulanger, Edgard Varèse or Nicolas Slonimsky, among many others, this is a book for you.

August 24, 2006 1:01 AM | | Comments (0)

Choosing a new group of Doug's Picks is always a challenge and a pleasant chore. You will find the latest recommendations in the right-hand column. As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged. The e-mail address is also to your right.

August 24, 2006 1:00 AM | | Comments (0)

The program is mostly set for the concert Dan Levinson and Randy Sandke are organizing to benefit the author and cornetist Dick Sudhalter. For details about Dick's medical predicament, the effort by many of his friends to help him, how you can get tickets and how you can lighten his overwhelming burden of medical costs, go here.

The quality and range of musicians who have volunteered their services constitute a testimonial to the respect and affection Richard M. Sudhalter has earned in the jazz community.

St. Peter's Lutheran Church
Lexington Avenue & 54th Street
New York, New York
Sunday, September 10, 2006




Ed Polcer -cornet
Tom Artin -trombone
Joe Muranyi -clarinet
Harry Allen -tenor sax
Dave Frishberg -piano
Bucky Pizzarelli -guitar
Frank Tate -bass
Jackie Williams -drums

7:20-7:30 DAVE FRISHBERG (piano solo: "Dear Bix")


Jon-Erik Kelso -trumpet
Orange Kellin -clarinet
Dan Levinson -C-melody sax
Brad Kay -piano
Jeff Healy -guitar/vocal
Brian Nalepka -bass
Kevin Dorn -drums
Molly Ryan -vocal

7:40-7:50 DARYL SHERMAN (piano solo/vocal)


Carol Sudhalter -sax
Dick Katz or Chuck Folds -piano
Jim Ferguson -bass
Jackie Williams -drums
Keisha St. Joan - vocal

8:00-8:10 STEVE KUHN (piano solo or with rhythm section)


Jon-Erik Kellso -trumpet
Wycliffe Gordon -trombone
Joe Muranyi -clarinet
James Chirillo -banjo
David Ostwald -tuba
Kevin Dorn -drums

8:20-8:30 JACKIE CAIN (vocal with piano)
?Steve Kuhn -piano


Brad Kay -cornet/piano
Dan Levinson -clarinet
Andy Stein -violin
Jeff Healy -guitar/trumpet/vocal
Scott Robinson -bass sax
Kevin Dorn -drums

8:40-8:50 MARIAN McPARTLAND (piano solo or with rhythm section)

?Frank Tate -bass

8:50-9:00 THE BIAGI BAND

Carol Sudhalter -sax
Sam Parkins -clarinet
Andy Stein -violin
Chuck Folds -piano
Bill Crow -bass
Giampaolo Biagi -drums
Francesca Biagi -vocal

9:00-9:10 SY JOHNSON (piano solo or with rhythm)


Bill Kirchner -soprano sax
Armen Donelian -piano
Jim Ferguson -bass


Randy Sandke -trumpet
Dan Barrett -trombone
?Dan Levinson -clarinet/C-melody sax
Scott Robinson -C-melody sax/clarinet/whatever
Mark Shane -piano
Marty Grosz -guitar
Nicki Parrott -bass
Rob Garcia -drums

9:30-9:40 BED

Becky Kilgore -vocals/guitar
Eddie Erickson -guitar
Dan Barrett -trombone
Joel Forbes -bass


If you are in or near New York, please plan on attending. If you are not and wish to help assure the best possible medical treatment for Dick, here again is the link for information.

Thank you.

August 23, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

The other day, I sent DevraDoWrite a note about one of her postings. She used my message--that's how things work in the blogosphere--and wrote:

In response to my mention of the Army's PsyOps division having used music as a weapon, Mr.Rifftides sent this message:
I remember that a few years ago there was quite a ruckus about the high school principal who punished his misbehaving inner-city students by making them listen to Frank Sinatra recordings. It may have been Chicago. If I turn up details, I'll let you know.

I hope he does turn up the details; thats a story I'd like to hear.

I tracked down the story, surprised at how long ago it was. Here's a hint at the end of an item by Arthur Higbee in the International Herald Tribune of February 20, 1993.

With corporal punishment now illegal in about half the 50 states, schoolteachers are keeping pupils in line in more imaginative ways, The Washington Post reports. Mark Twain's Aunt Sally had it right, teachers agreed at a recent conference in Washington on "creative detention." Just as she sent a misbehaving Tom Sawyer to whitewash the fence, so teachers are using troublemakers to scrub or scrape or sod. When Joyce Perkins of Sour Lake, Texas, hears her 12-year-olds use bad language, she marches them to the telephone and makes them call their mothers and repeat the words syllable by syllable. Bruce Janu of Chicago says that when his high schoolers get out of line, he makes them listen to old Frank Sinatra records.

That was hard enough to find. After another hour of trolling, I came up with all of the story. This is from the Columbus, Ohio, Dispatch by way of the 1993 edition of the World Almanac and Book of Facts.

Bruce Janu has a different kind of detention. The social science teacher punishes troublemaking students by making them stay after school and listen to Frank Sinatra for a half-hour. Janu created the Frank Sinatra Detention Club last year at Riverside-Brookfield High School in Riverside, Illinois. "You've got a Frank," he tells unruly students. The 24-year-old teacher said he loves Sinatra's music but realizes that teen-agers these days would rather listen to rap or Madonna. "The kids hate it," he said. "This is the worst thing that has ever happened to them." Senior Mike Niesluchowski received two Franks in one day, meaning he had to listen to Ol' Blue Eyes for an hour. "It just got to where he couldn't stand it," he said.

My god, Madonna has been around that long?

I tried to learn whether Sinatra knew about the detention and had anything to say about it, but there is no evidence that he did. It might not have been printable in a family blog, anyway. Or would he have laughed?

August 22, 2006 3:01 PM | | Comments (0)

The preceding item about using good music as punishment has an unintended connection to a piece in one of Gene Lees' latest JazzLetters. With Gene's permission, here it is.


Kenny Drew's angst over the state of popular music put me in mind of a news story that came out about a year ago.

The Associated Press carried a report on a U.S. military prison near Kabul in Afghanistan that specialized in torturing prisoners. The Human Rights Watch group, based in New York City, after interviews with so-called "detainees" (if you don't call them "prisoners" you can do anything you want to them), describes how prisoners were chained to walls or hung upside down or kept in total darkness for days and subjected interminably to loud music. And what kind of music was it? "Loud rap, heavy metal music, or other sounds blared for weeks at a time."

A prisoner born in Ethiopia and raised in England said that he was exposed to Eminem and Dr. Dre for seeming endless hours

What? No Mozart? No Bach? No Debussy or Duke Ellington or Charlie Parker or Bill Evans or Miles Davis or Frank Sinatra?

The prisoner said he could her people knocking their heads on the walls and screaming.

No kidding.

You won't find Gene Lees Ad Libitum & JazzLetter on the internet. It is published the old fashioned way, with ink and paper. The legend at the end of the September, 2005 issue reads:

The JazzLetter is published 12 times a year at PO Box 240, Ojai, California 93024-1240. $70 per year U.S. and Canada, $80 for other countries. Subscribers may buy introductory gift subscriptions for friends for $35.

Oh, about the September 2005 issue coming out in August, 2006. The JazzLetter shows up in batches, sometimes four or five issues at once. Whatever the dates on the issues you receive, what is in them will be timely and timeless. It is an unusual publishing practice, but the JazzLetter is an unusual publication, forthright, beautifully written and ranging through subjects of interest to intelligent, aware readers, whether or not the topics relate directly to jazz. I have every copy since it started, March 15, 1982. If seventy dollars a year sounds high, I maintain that the Scott LaFaro and Herb Geller issues Lees just sent out are worth that much and more.

August 22, 2006 2:49 PM | | Comments (0)

To provide harmonic guidance, bands in early jazz, swing and bebop included banjos, guitars or pianos. There were exceptions, notably some of the New Orleans bands that rode in the beds of trucks or marched for funerals and parades, That practice continues with outfits as traditional as the Onward and Olympia brass bands and as up to date as the Dirty Dozen. In general, though, after 1930, as jazz became more and more a soloist's art, players depended on pianists or guitarists to supply the chordal basis for improvisation.

The harmonic aspect of bop was often complex, even unto altered changes for the most basic material--the blues and pieces based on simple standard songs like "I Got Rhythm" and "Oh, Lady Be Good." When the baritone saxophonist and arranger Gerry Mulligan unveiled a band without a chording instrument, it seemed to some listeners incomplete. Others thought it brought openness and freshness to a music that had grown increasingly involved and demanding. Mulligan's quartet with trumpeter Chet Baker, bassist Carson Smith and drummer Chico Hamilton was a popular success in the pre-rock-and-roll early 1950s, and came to have a lasting influence in the music. Before the decade was out, Ornette Coleman was further reducing dependence on chording instruments, in fact on chords themselves, with instrumentation identical to Mulligan's save that Coleman played alto rather than baritone sax. Groups patterning themselves on Mulligan's emerged through the years. Paul Desmond's quartet with guitarist Jim Hall and later with Ed Bickert may have been the most successful.

Fascination with the Mulligan quartet and its achievements continues in the new century. Three fairly recent CDs make the point. Trumpeter John McNeil's East Coast Cool (Omnitone) is the newest and most experimental, taking Mulligan's concept beyond conventional song-form harmony into freedom that often verges on Coleman territory. He includes only one piece, "Bernie's Tune," from Mulligan's repertoire. In it, he expands the famous introductory triplet phrase by half, then doubles it, takes the bridge into waltz time and elasticizes the meter in the improvised choruses. The metric foolery in this and other selections is possible not only by way of McNeil's celebrated instrumental and cerebral virtuosity, but also that of baritone saxophonist Alan Chase, bassist John Hebert and the magical drummer Matt Wilson.

The rest of the twelve pieces, except for Kenny Berger's Mulligan-like "GAB," are by McNeil. Some have what sound (deceptively) like conventional chord changes. Some seem to have none, but depend on rhythmic regularity. Throughout, there is a large dollop of McNeil's wryness and wit, but they never overwhelm his musicality. "A Time To Go," which apparently means to poke fun at the conventions of accessible melodicism in the West Coast Jazz of the 1950s, is nonetheless melodic and accessible. "Delusions" alternates between sections of uplift and menace and features amazing extended press-roll dynamics by Wilson.

Two duets by McNeil and Chase sound totally improvised, but with McNeil you can't always be certain what is worked out and what is off the cuff. In "Duet #2," the trumpet discreetly uses what I presume to be tape-loop echo while Chase, closely miked, manipulates the saxophone's keys without blowing into the instrument, producing a hollow effect something like that of the drums called boo-bams. The track is intriguing and judiciously short; too much of this would have been precious. Other highlights: a piece called "Schoenberg's Piano Concerto," built of twelve-tone rows, also brief and effective; a truly beautiful semi-free ballad called "Wanwood;" and "Waltz Helios," which is wistful and touching. McNeil extends Mulligan's concept into regions of free and modal jazz without going so far out as to lose the cogency or the sense of fun that helped make Mulligan's quartet a model upon which to buld.

News From Blueport by the Andy Panayi Quartet (Woodville Records) closely observes the Mulligan ethos and repertoire. With trombonist Mark Nightingale, bassist Simon Woolf and drummer Steve Brown, baritone saxophonist Panayi approximates the edition of the Mulligan quartet that had Bob Brookmeyer on trombone. Veterans of British studios and jazz clubs, they achieve the Mulligan-Brookmeyer blend. Except in short stretches of Bill Crow's title tune, the band does not deviate from straight time or leave conventional harmonic arenas. Yet, it is not a mere replication of the Mulligan group. However skillfully Panayi has adapted certain of Mulligan's mannerisms, he occasionally departs into growls, honks and slurs that announce his individuality.

Nightingale plays the slide trombone, not the valve version of which Brookmeyer is the undefeated champion. A precisionist of the J.J. Johnson school, he nonetheless glories in his instrument's ability to whoop and holler. The tune list is predominantly from the Mulligan book--"Blueport," "Line for Lyons," "Sun on the Stairs," "Festive Minor" and others--but it also has nice changes of pace in Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks," Pepper Adams' "Reflectory" and "Em 'N En," a Nightingale line based on "There Will Never Be Another You." Woolf and Brown are new to me. Their work in support is admirable, and Woolf demonstrates both ardor and technique, including plenty of double stops, in his bass solos. This is a Mulligan tribute album that will introduce many non-Britains to four impressive musicians. This CD seems to be hard to find in the U.S. The link above is to a British seller.

The Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava's Full Of Life (CamJazz) also embraces Mulligan, but with more subtlety than the Payani group and less overt adventuresomeness than McNeil's. Rava is one of many European trumpeters influenced by Chet Baker and Miles Davis. He also has some of the free radical genes of players like Kenny Wheeler and Don Cherry. Javier Girotto is the baritone saxophonist. Although his soloing is more elliptical than Mulligan's, and he works within a narrower dynamic range, when he and Rava heat up their counterpoint on "Surrey With the Fringe on Top," they achieve a symbiosis remarkably like that of Mulligan and Baker.

The CD contains no Mulligan compositions, but Rava pays tribute with "Moonlight in Vermont," using the essential outline of Mulligan's famous version with Baker. It is a langourous, reflective, enchanting performance, but "Nature Boy" outdoes it for sheer passion that reaches the simmering intensity of slow flamenco in Rava's solo and in Girotto's on soprano saxophone. As for the rest of the tunes, Rava's and Girotto's originals are as intriguing as some of their titles; "Boston April 15th," as an example, "Happiness is to Win a Big Prize in Cash" as another. Those pieces, "Miss MG," "Full of Life," "Visions" and "Mystere" have harmonic structures that inspire lovely solos from both horns and, often, daring ones from Rava. Like Kenny Wheeler, he is prone to making surprising interval leaps into the stratosphere without sacrificing his lyricism.

Bassist Ares Ravolazzi and drummer Fabrizio Sferra present further evidence that superb rhythm section players are everywhere in Europe these days. Full of Life is an apt title for this consistently satisfying album.

August 22, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)

In the notes for Bill Evans: The Secret Sessions, I observed of certain Free Jazz or New Thing players,

The movement did attract a fair number of poseurs enchanted by the idea of playing music without having to know anything about it. Today, most of them are otherwise employed.

At least, they had instruments.

The blogger known as Shrinkucci, who is a drummer and a psychologist, posts an interesting story about a young man who, because he wants to be, believes himself to be a great drummer. To read it, go here.

August 19, 2006 1:00 AM | | Comments (1)
When you begin to teach jazz, the most dangerous thing is that you tend to teach style...I had eleven piano students, and I would say eight of them didn't even want to know about chords or anything - they didn't even want to do anything that anybody had ever done, because they didn't want to be imitators. Well, of course, this is pretty naive...but nevertheless it does bring to light the fact that if you're going to try to teach jazz...you must abstract the principles of music which have nothing to do with style, and this is exceedingly difficult. So there, the teaching of jazz is a very touchy point. It ends up where the jazz player, ultimately, if he's going to be a serious jazz player, teaches himself.
--Bill Evans
Jazz is like writing. It can be learned, but it can't be taught.
--Paul Desmond
August 18, 2006 1:06 AM | | Comments (0)
A nice appreciation of Evans.

Is Monk really sui generis? I think there is a second piano tradition born of the Harlem pianists like James P. Johnson, and it runs to Duke and then to Monk, and appears in amalgamated form with the other tradition in folks like Elmo Hope and Barry Harris.

And there may be one exception to your observation about styles not set before 1960 developing in the shadow of Kind of Blue. I think Jackie McLean had a distinct style before and after Kind of Blue. Frankly, I can't stand his early work, which always sounded strained, frantic and involved the worst sort of change-running -- a sweaty steeplechase from chord to chord. I don't think there was a musician who greater benefited from Kind of Blue's influence. McLean responded to the greater demand that modal jazz placed on the soloist to create a body of work on Blue Note from 1960-1966 that is extraordinary. I have them all in my collection, and dutifully pulled them all out when he died, and they are as fresh and as exciting as they were 40-45 years ago. A Fickle Sonance still blows me right across the room, the same way it did when I first heard it on Symphony Sid's show in 1963.

Don Frese

August 18, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

I rarely pass along promotional announcements, but this one is too intriguing not to deserve an exception.


On Open Source On WGBH 89.7
Open Source airs Monday through Thursday from 7pm-8 pm on WGBH 89.7 and streams at wgbh.org/listen

On July 7, 1956, Duke Ellington played the Newport Jazz Festival. Paul Gonsalves soloed for six minutes on "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue," the crowd exploded, an album was cut and our century - the American century, the Jazz century - found its high point. Christopher Lydon says, "Fifty summers after the Newport Suite and Paul Gonzalves' 27 choruses of blues, we're going savor a golden moment in American life with (music critic and author) Stanley Crouch; the Columbia record producer George Avakian; the Newport impresario then and now, George Wein; and with Duke Ellington's ever-eloquent and all-witnessing nephew Michael James."

Crouch, Avakian and James are articulate men of, shall we say, firm opinions. Lydon is a skilled interviewer. It would be surprising if they were boring on the subject of Ellington.

August 17, 2006 2:43 PM | | Comments (0)

Bill Evans was born on this day in 1929. Gratitude for that gift to music is not merely in order, it is mandatory. Here is a little of what I wrote a decade ago in an essay for the CD box, Bill Evans: The Secret Sessions.

The evolution of jazz music as a distinct form of creative expression is contained in only eight decades of the 20th century. The maturing of the art of jazz piano improvisation is an index to the astonishing speed of that development. It took less than 40 years, and its main current ran from James P. Johnson through Fats Waller, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Nat Cole, Bud Powell and Bill Evans, with Art Tatum standing apart as an unclassifiable phenomenon.
Today, I might add Jelly Roll Morton at the beginning of the list and Thelonious Monk as the other great unclassifiable.
Acting on insights gained from the music of Debussy and other impressionist composers, he enriched his chords beyond those of any other jazz pianist. Comparisons that come to mind are with harmonies that Gil Evans and Robert Farnon wrote for large orchestras and with some of the mysterious voicings of Duke Ellington. Even in his earliest trio work he stretched and displaced rhythm and melody and hinted at modes and scales as the basis for improvisation.

With the 1958 Miles Davis sextet that included saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones (replaced before very long by Jimmy Cobb), Evans had enormous influence in determining the course that mainstream jazz follows to this day. Although in his own groups he was to remain within the song form all his life, at this time Evans clearly accelerated Davis's change from a repertoire of popular songs and jazz standards to pieces with fewer chord changes and greater demands on the taste, judgment and imagination of the soloist.

Davis saw ways of using the pianist's approach to open up and simplify harmonies. By applying modal changes, the two men even transformed a twelve-bar blues, already the simplest traditional jazz form. By 1959, their work together helped lead to the landmark Davis sextet recording, Kind Of Blue. (It is fair to say that of important players and writers whose styles were not set before 1960, most developed in the shadow of that album.) Their modal and scalar approach to improvisation profoundly influenced John Coltrane's turn toward fewer harmonic guideposts. Independently, at about the same time, alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman was solong on melodic lines, which he wrote without key centers, modes or scales. Taken together, the two methods led to Free Jazz or The New Thing, the avant garde jazz of the 1960s.

On his website The Bill Evans Web Pages, Jan Stevens writes:

Needless to say, he changed the way we all hear jazz --whether this is realized or not -- and of course, he changed the very foundations of chord- voicing and improvisation forever. A very private and reserved soul who nevertheless reached out through his own naked self-expression, Bill was able to somehow create a fresh and vibrant soundscape that remains illuminating, if not downright spiritual to all who can really get inside of it and hear it at the highest levels.


Make no mistake: Bill Evans was, of course, firmly within the jazz tradition and its ongoing aethetic, and was proud of it. Besides his legendary ballad playing, he could swing like crazy with his own trios, and it's impossible to imagine certain albums by Miles or Mingus or Chet Baker or Cannonball Adderley or Kai and J.J. and many others without him. Yet, aspects of some of his best work transcend jazz as we know it --sometimes even confounding and delighting those who are not amenable to jazz to begin with. (Try out an early "My Foolish Heart" or almost anything from the "You Must Believe in Spring" album on your uninitiated, musically-intelligent friends and see what happens.)

To read all of Jan's tribute, go here and find disclosures of what Evans might have done had he lived.

Bill Evans died on September 15, 1980. He was fifty-one years old. In a habit of anticipation developed during the course of his career, I still go to the mailbox in hopes that a new Bill Evans album will appear.

August 16, 2006 11:11 PM | | Comments (0)

There is less than a month until a concert in New York to benefit Dick Sudhalter, the multi-talented musician and writer who needs all the help his friends (I am one) and admirers can give. Here is what I wrote in June about Dick's dilemma.

Richard M. Sudhalter, the gifted cornetist, biographer of Bix Beiderbecke and invaluable jazz historian, needs help. Following a massive stroke nearly three years ago and a recent diagnosis that he has MSA (multiple system atrophy), Dick's medical bills have mounted to proportions that he cannot begin to manage.

Sudhalter wrote Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contributions to Jazz 1915-1945. Following racist attacks by ignoramuses when it was published in 1999, it is now beginning to get the credit due it as one of the most valuable historical and analytical studies about jazz. He also wrote superb biographies of Beiderbecke and Hoagy Carmichael. Three books of their quality would be accomplishment aplenty for anyone. But Sudhalter is also a superb cornetist in the Beiderbecke tradition and beyond it. His contributions to the music and to the general culture are profound.

Friends are organizing a benefit concert to be held at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in New York on September 10, but Dick's financial situation is crushing now. He is due to go to the Mayo Clinic for treatment. It's going to be expensive. I am sending a check. I hope that you will also help, to whatever extent you can.

The concert will start at 7 pm at the church at Lexington Avenue and 54th Street. Tickets at the door or in advance are forty dollars. Please consider donations above that amount.

Dan Levinson and Randy Sandke are organizing the concert. If you go, you will hear Harry Allen, Dan Barrett, Eddie Bert, Bill Crow, Jim Ferguson, Dave Frishberg, Wycliffe Gordon, Marty Grosz, Becky Kilgore, Bill Kirchner, Steve Kuhn, Dan Levinson, Marian McPartland, Joe Muranyi, David Ostwald, Nicki Parrott, Bucky Pizzarelli, Scott Robinson, Randy Sandke, Daryl Sherman, and the Loren Schoenberg Big Band. There will no doubt be additions to that list. Tickets are available in advance--and donations can be sent by using this address:

Dorothy Kellogg
P.O. Box 757
Southold, NY 11971

You can also order tickets online with a credit card by visiting PayPal and using this account:


Because of the MSA, Dick is unable to speak understandably. His ability to read and write are not affected. He would be delighted to hear by e-mail from friends who may have fallen out of touch. If you are in a position to offer him work--articles, reviews, essays, liner notes--hire him. He is a brilliant writer and he needs the money.

August 14, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

This is a vacation week. Blogging will be intermittent at best, but I will, of course, be thinking of all of you, wherever I may be.

I hope that you, too, are enjoying the summer. Unless, of course, you are in the southern hemisphere, in which case I hope that you are enjoying the winter.

August 14, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Thanks to Ty Newcomb for alerting me to a remarkable performance of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." The tenor player is an ugly cat, but he has Trane's solo down cold (term used advisedly). To hear and witness it, go here. Do not ask where you can hear this player in live performance. You can't.

Have a good weekend.

August 12, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Duke Jordan died on Tuesday in Copenhagen. The news summons thoughts of the beauty of his piano playing and the gentleness of his personality. Jordan's touch, harmonic sensitivity and gift for the creation of melodic lines made him a favorite colleague of Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Gene Ammons and Chet Baker, to name a few who benefited from his artistry. He had worked earlier with Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins and the Savoy Sultans, but his playing on Parker's 1947 recordings on the Dial label, when he was twenty-five, brought him his first wide recognition. His introductions to ballads were often little masterpieces. The four bars leading into Parker's "Embraceable You" constitute one of the most exquisite moments in all of recorded jazz, and one of the most imitated.

In the days of three-minute records, Jordan rarely had more than sixteen bars of solo time in Parker's quintet or sextet sessions, but he invariably constructed short stories with beginnings, middles and endings, never filling the time with random improvisation. An example of his cogency is in the middle of "Quasimodo," which happens to also be "Embraceable You" under the guise of an original Parker melody line. Both of those pieces are on this CD.

A prodigious composer, Jordan's most famous piece is "Jordu," a staple of the modern jazz repertoire. "No Problem" may be a close second. He wrote it for the sound track of Roger Vadim's Les Liaisons Dangereuses. He was also the co-composer, as Jacques Marray, of the soundtrack for that 1959 film, with contributions by Thelonious Monk. After he moved to Copenhagen in 1978, Jordan recorded copiously as a leader and with Chet Baker, Doug Raney, Clifford Jordan and others.

The times I was privileged to be around him, Jordan was quiet, easy in his skin and earnest. He was the pianist for Sam Most's 1976 album Mostly Flute, which had Tal Farlow on guitar, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Billy Higgins. In the liner notes, I recounted a recording session incident that typified Duke's attitude.

"The More I See You" is taken at a bright medium-up tempo. Duke's introduction recalls some of the gems he recorded with Parker, and he has one of the best solos of the date. In the control room, heads were shaking in admiration during this one, and afterward when Jordan walked in asking, "Was that all right?" everyone broke up.

Duke Jordan, dead at eighty-four.

August 11, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

Rifftides reader Mel Narunsky writes:

Now that I've had a chance to see the Monica Zetterlund & Bill Evans videos, I think that "Lucky To Be Me" was outstanding - and far superior to the "Waltz For Debby" effort which I'm sure they subsequently improved upon.

I have always thought that the Tony Bennett recording with Evans of "Waltz For Debby" is unbeatable if only (but not only) for the fact that they stick to 3/4 throughout (this is after all what a waltz really is). I've never found a recording by Evans himself that doesn't go into 4/4.

The Zetterlund/Evans video of "Once Upon A Summertime" was also very good.

If you watch the YouTube video of "Lucky To Be Me" linked above, you will hear the music but see amateur shots of scenery. Here's the explanation filed by the YouTube contributor, who identifies himself or herself as 60otaku.

Music and an image do not have a direct relation. Please understand the situation...(^^;) A chief aim is music to the last ! Personnel; Monica Zetterlund (vocal) Bill Evans (piano) Chuck Israels (bass) Larry Bunker (drums)
August 11, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Steven Bernstein writes from New York regarding my piece in the July 27 Wall Street Journal about trumpeter Randy Sandke (You can read it here if you're an online WSJ subscriber). He is concerned about my speculative aside that in Sandke's Subway Ballet, Bernstein plays..."what may be this century's first recorded solo on slide trumpet."

"Thanks for a great article on Randy Sandke," he says. "I wish more journalists would support this incredible musician." Then he takes me to task.

Since you are a journalist/historian, I'd like to clarify a statement you made about the slide trumpet in the 21st century. I am a professional trumpeter /bandleader in NY for the last 25 years--started a band called Sex Mob 11 years ago in which I ONLY play the slide trumpet.....have played it on numerous cds, tv shows, movie soundtracks, dance pieces etc. There are two slide trumpet players in Europe (that I know of), Luca Bonvini and Axel Dorner....and a bunch of young kids out there inspired by me who are starting to play it. You might be interested in hearing Sex Mob. We play compositions ranging from "Blue and Sentimental" to "Nirvana" and lots in between. My 9-piece band the Millennial Territory Orchestra started off playing pieces by Tiny Parham and Cecil Scott and expanded out. Our debut CD was just released on Sunnyside.

So anyway, about 100 slide trumpet solos recorded this century, and it's just starting...

Keep yer ears oiled


I just ordered a new bottle of oil.

This famous photograph of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band in 1923 shows Louis Armstrong playing a slide trumpet. His cornet, the instrument he most often used with the band, is in front of him. Armstrong Slide.jpg
The photographer arranged the group with wonderful symmetry, but it is unlikely that Johnny Dodds often performed seated on the piano in that excruciating posture. From left to right, Honoré Dutrey, Baby Dodds, King Oliver, Armstrong, Lil Hardin, Bill Johnson, Johnny Dodds. To hear Armstrong and Oliver in a complete performance of "Chimes Blues", click here. The cornet solo is Armstrong's, his first on record. The date was April 6, 1923.

August 10, 2006 1:06 AM | | Comments (1)

Our Girl In Chicago, Terry Teachout's partner in blog, reminds us that that yesterday was Philip Larkin's birthday. I admire Larkin's poetry more than his reactionary jazz criticism, so I celebrate him half enthusiastically. Nonetheless, it is a reason to call your attention to a Larkin poem we recently posted, along with one by Miller Williams, during the discussion of Tom Sancton's book Song For My Fathers about growing up in New Orleans and in traditional jazz. If you missed it or would like to read it again, go here.

August 10, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Jan Stevens, the proprietor of the Bill Evans Web Pages, wrote:

I enjoyed Marc Myers's observations regarding the rare video of the late Danish vocalist Monica Zetterlund with Bill Evans, performing "Waltz for Debby". Some clarifications: about two weeks after the October 1966 recording sessions for his Verve album, A Simple Matter of Conviction (the first one with Eddie Gomez on bass), Bill and Eddie departed for Scandanavia for several dates. Arnie Wise was on drums for Bill at the time, but he did not make the trip, so Alex Riel, a well-known Danish drummer, played. Riel had worked a few gigs with Bill before, and was then working in a most notable trio with pianist Kenny Drew and bassist Neils-Henning Orsted Pedrson. (There is another Evans trio video with Riel from this same tour, circulating on the Web.)

This rehearsal we see on the video was done on October 25, 1966, while preparing for the televised concert, a charity event at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen. As far as the late Ms. Zetterlund (who died in a fire on May 12, 2005 -- see my page), Bill enjoyed her work very much, and was first impressed when he heard her own "Debby" version in 1964, entitled "Monica's Vals". When he subsequently did his first European in late summer of that year, his manager Helen Keane arranged for them to meet and they recorded the Waltz for Debby" album for the Phillips record label.

Bill always smoked Camels, but this is the only time I have ever seen him shown smoking a cigar!

Jan Stevens

Please note that a Bill Evans Web Pages link is now in the Other Places section of the right-hand column.

August 10, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

While I am meeting deadlines for writing that pays even more than Rifftides, why not have reader Marc Myers guide us to a fascinating video. He writes:

Talk about one of those video clips that just stops you cold: Go here and dig Monica Zetterlund and Bill Evans on "Waltz for Debby."

This must have been a run-through for the record date. For my money, this is the definitive "Debby." It's brighter and more lyrical than the Vanguard sessions. And as you will see, Monica and Bill are both instantly absorbed by the moment--but in very different ways. Monica seems overwhelmed and somewhat stunned by the sheer beauty of Bill's playing. Bill appears to be both distracted and in love with the sound of Monica's interpretation--so much so that he turns away to fully absorb it. Watch Monica's facial expressions and twitches as she milks the beauty of this song. And who knew Bill dug cigars?

Two interesting moments: About halfway through, Monica either forgets the words or is fooled by Bill's comping--but still manages to work her way out of it smoothly. Also, the midsection where Bill transitions from straight 3/4 time to a swinging waltz, it's hard to tell if this was Monica's idea, signaling Bill that she was comfortable enough to handle the improv, or Bill's "chart." I always thought from the recording that this transition was Bill's doing. Now I'm not so sure. Fascinating.

At the end, it's hard to tell if Bill was displeased by Monica's quasi-casual treatment or blown away by it. And when it's over, both seem to want each other's praise but neither gives it up. But Bill's definitely moved. At any rate,
there's a whole lot going on here.

What was Bill's impression of Monica? Did he take her seriously?

Marc Myers

Unfortunately, we won't have the answers to those questions from them. They're both gone. It seems unlikely that this was a rehearsal for the album. Eddie Gomez is the bassist in the video clip. Chuck Israels, who preceded Gomez in the trio, played bass on the album, which was recorded in 1964. Larry Bunker was the drummer. Gomez joined Evans in 1966. We don't see the drummer in the YouTube video. Nor is he identified.

The record date to which Mr. Myers refers resulted in this album, which seems to be available singly only as an import. It is also part of the eighteen-CD box set The Complete Bill Evans on Verve. That is the wonderful collection infamous for its packaging--a rusty steel box containing another rusty steel box with swing-out sleeves holding the CDs. Verve should have offered a tetanus shot with each one. The Vanguard sessions are the famous Sunday at the Village Vanguard, a sublime live recording of the 1961 Evans trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian .

August 9, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

It was a weekend of contrasts. I reread All Quiet on the Western Front, recovered from it on a long road bike trek that began with a one-mile climb up a steep grade (I refuse to submit to a testosterone exam), picked a few quarts of blackberries and played in a jam session in which, at one point, the rhythm section consisted of three guitars. That was a new and uplifting experience.

Now, it's time to get serious. I'm on deadline for an essay to accompany a Thelonious Monk collection in the Riverside Profiles series. Blogging will be in the back of my mind, but that's where it will have to stay for today and, possibly, tomorrow. Have a good Monday.

August 7, 2006 10:24 AM | | Comments (0)
Too many pieces of music finish too long after the end.
- Igor Stravinsky
You might try taking the horn out of your mouth.
- Miles Davis, after John Coltrane said he found it difficult to play short solos
August 7, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

The new book and DVD recommendations are finally in place under Doug's Picks in the right-hand column. I stretched the DVD category to make you aware of a discovery. I doubt that you'll be sorry.

August 5, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Readers have asked why Rifftides does not allow comments to be posted directly. I want the opportunity to review comments and, when it feels right, to respond to them in context and with editorial discretion. It has developed, as I thought it would, that Rifftides readers are not inclined to inititiate the kinds of shouting matches that infect too many web sites, so that has never been a worry. But there is another reason: spam. About half of the alleged comments that I receive are spam. If I allowed them to pop up unsupervised, you would be seeing random insults from web trawlers, pitches for ringtones and viagra and opportunities for a wide variety of personal services from members of all of the sexes. Not on this weblog, folks.

The Rifftides staff encourages you to send comments, whether or not they are about something you've seen here . They may end up in the comments section at the end of an item, as part of a posting in the main section or, rarely, on the cutting room floor. You may send a message to the e-mail address in the upper right-hand column or click on the "Comments" link at the end of an item. Please do.

August 5, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (1)

Rifftides reader Marc Myers writes from New York City about the Louis Armstrong video mentioned yesterday:

Fabulous clip of Pops in the 1930s! Pure joy. Two observations: The band appears to be integrated, which is strange if this is indeed the early 1930s. In addition, none of the musicians is reading music. Was this for the sake of filming or simply for added novelty? Clearly, Louis must have rehearsed this group to death to execute perfectly without charts.

The film was shot during a 1933-34 Armstrong European tour in which he augmented his band with local musicians. I'm fairly certain that "Dinah" and "I Cover the Waterfront" were filmed in Sweden. As for reading music, the arrangements, which were simple background riffs, hardly required it once the musicians had played them a couple of times. Here's a second installment.

And, since the maestro is on our minds, we may as well take a look at a segment from the 1956 film Satchmo the Great. The narrator is Edward R. Murrow.

August 4, 2006 5:04 PM | | Comments (0)

Louis Armstrong liked to tell people, and may have believed, that he was born on the Fourth of July, 1900. Given the circumstances of his family and of the rough part of New Orleans he came from, it is not unlikely that civic records were haphazard. Twelve years after Armstrong died in 1971, research turned up a baptismal certicate proving--or at least strongly indicating--that he was actually born on August 4, 1901, 106 years ago today. This film, made when he was riding high on success with his first big band, is a good way to celebrate and remember a great man.

Artsjournal.com colleague Terry Teachout is working on a biography of Armstrong. In an interview for one of the international programs websites of the US State Department, Terry does a fine job of summarizing Armstrong's importance. You may read it here.

August 3, 2006 9:15 PM | | Comments (1)

Speaking of colleagues, in case you haven't heard the news about guitarist Jim Hall's latest honor, there is no one better to tell you than his proud daughter Devra, aka the blogger DevraDowrite.

Congratulations to both.

August 3, 2006 9:14 PM |

Deborah Hendrick read the comment about Bix Beiderbecke having been a cornetist, not a trumpeter, and asks:

As part of my continuing education, why would a musician choose a trumpet over a cornet, or the other way around?

Experts on brass instruments have written volumes on that question. Following my non-voluminous answer, I'll give you links to further information.

The trumpet's tubing is elongated and relatively straight until it reaches the flare of the bell. That gives the instrument volume and brilliance. The cornet's tubing is tightly wound compared to that of the trumpet, resulting in more air resistance when the player blows into the horn. Its tubing is conical, growing bigger around as it approaches the bell. Taken together, those two factors give the cornet a mellower, softer sound than the trumpet's. Trumpets predominate these days in orchestras and bands, but through the last half of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, the cornet was king. It was developed by the Frenchman J.B. Arban, who literally wrote the book on how to play it. Arban's Complete Conservatory Method is still the cornetist's, and trumpeter's, bible.

John Philip Sousa and Herbert L. Clarke, disciples of Arban, were virtuoso cornetists who led famous brass bands and further influenced the popularity of the instrument. When jazz came along, cornet was the default lead brass instrument in the early New Orleans bands, as it was in Chicago and New York in the 1920s and into the thirties. Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke were cornetists. My guess is that Armstrong switched to trumpet because when he organized his big band around 1930, he wanted to project more, but his great early recordings were on cornet. Beiderbecke, to my knowledge, played cornet exclusively. Many great jazz players thought of as trumpeters were, in fact, cornetists, among them Bobby Hackett, Rex Stewart, Ruby Braff, Jimmy McPartland, Wild Bill Davison, Nat Adderley and, often, Thad Jones. They preferred the cornet's fluency and intimacy. Few modern trumpet players also play the cornet, but many double on flugelhorn, which can achieve similar, but not identical, mellowness. Committed cornetists are passionate in their love for the instrument, witness this quote from a player named Mike Trager.

I equate my cornet with a good-natured golden retriever and my trumpet with a vicious Doberman pinscher.

trumpet family.jpg
Left to right, you see flugelhorn, trumpet, cornet and piccolo trumpet and, in front, assorted mutes. The flugelhorn and the piccolo trumpet here are the four-valve variety. You know what I say about that? It's hard enough to play three valves. I'll leave well enough alone. But I wish I had my old cornet back. Maybe I'll prowl the pawn shops.

If you want to go deeper into the arcania of brass instruments in the soprano range, see this essay, and this discussion with Michael Fitzgerald on the Organissimo website.

August 3, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (4)

An alert reader of my Wall Street Journal piece about trumpeter Randy Sandke sent the following message:

I read your article mentioning the Beiderbecke Festival in The Wall Street Journal. I enjoyed the reading, but I felt compelled to clear up a point. Seems like you referred to "Davenport, Iowa, the classic trumpeter's hometown." I don't believe that Bix Beiderbecke ever played a trumpet. He was a cornetist, not a trumpeter. Not a biggee, but what the heck. It's interesting the impact the Midwest has had on music. Glenn Miller's hometown was Clarinda, Iowa. And there have been others as well.

Craig Peterson
Santa Monica, CA
Born in McGregor, Iowa, and raised in Mason City, Iowa (AKA River City, Iowa)

Mr. Peterson is correct. I regret the error.

August 1, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

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